Lesson 12 - Breaking Addictions
An Introductory Course, Designed and Written by Guru Rattana, Ph.D.
Food, diet, weight loss, eating disorders, and other addictive substances and behaviors - whatever our specific issue, every day we are all confronted with what to put in our mouths and how the decisions we make affect our well-being. My approach is to use our addictive tendencies as a path to empowerment. In the process we can claim "the gifts from the garbage."
3rd Chakra: Yoga and Making and Breaking Habits
The ability to make and break habits is associated with the navel center or third chakra. When our navel center is strong we have the will to make decisions and to keep them. There are many navel exercises and sets. You have already come across one of these - the Nabhi Kriya in lesson 10. Many more can be found in my manual Transitions to a Heart-Centered World.
Breath of Fire is a great navel breath as is the 4 Part Energizing Breath which I covered in our very first lesson. Do this 3-5 minute exercise 3 or more times a day, especially at moments when you are being pulled to a compulsive, addictive behavior.
(Remember your navel center is slightly below the navel, approximately 1-2" below the navel itself, where many nerve centers converge. You can identify it by a pulse which gets stronger after navel exercises like the 4-part breath, leg lifts and stretch pose.)
Many addictions, especially smoking, drugs and alcohol, are related to the fire element. Navel breathing, especially Breath of Fre and 4 Part Breath, give us the fire energy we crave. As the energy we create begins to satisfy us, we are released from the hold of the addiction.
A strong navel center is a requirement for being able to commit and keep your commitments to yourself. Daily practice to strengthen the navel center is the first commitment we need to make to ourselves.
2nd and 3rd Chakras: Digestion and Power Center
There are MANY things going on in our body that we can connect with if we tune into and are present to our energy. The second chakra, which is located in the lower abdominal area, is where much of our additive and "food" issues reside. Whereas the third chakra can be identified by a pulse at a specific point, the second chakra is a space which generates rhythmic movement.
The abdominal area is our power center. Women especially learn to hold in their stomachs. The result is a constant tension and continual blocking of our internal source of power. This is the area where our digestion and elimination is regulated. When we create stress by holding in our stomachs and have a negative attitude toward this part of our body, we interfere with our normal biological functioning.
When the belly is relaxed, digestion and elimination can occur in a natural and peaceful matter. Imagine you were a large or small intestine and that you had to carry out your job under the adverse circumstances that we create by holding in our bellies, blocking the energy flow and cutting off the breath. You wouldn't get the job done properly, so matter how hard you tried.
One way to cultivate a relaxed abdominal area is to practice long deep abdominal breathing. Lie on your back, place your hands on your belly, let your inhale push your hands up and exhale relax the hands back down. Many women in classes I have taught have experienced dramatic increases of energy with this simple breathing exercise.
Our goal is to befriend our bellies and to consciously allow our energy to flow. Overtime our peaceful relationship with our energy and our body will supercede any programming of how our bodies should look. As we make friends with our bodies, HOW OUR BODIES FEEL BECOMES OUR COMMANDING TOUCHSTONE.
Security is our Greatest Asset
SELF-LOVE on an energetic level is our goal. For self-love to be real, we have to enjoy being in our bodies. This is of course a process that takes time. We have to be willing to feel uncomfortable and to experience our emotions. If we are willing, we will over time experience inner power and peace.
Yogi Bhajan taught us years ago that "A woman's greatest security is herself." In fact, a woman can not really function as woman, i.e. use all her innate gifts, until she feels secure within herself. Can you feel the power of those statements? Just writing those words again makes me sit up straighter and breathe deeper. I think the same is true for men. For both men and women, it is our inner connection that is our source of true power.
Maybe the core issue is not food or addictions. Maybe the core issue is our own security, our own self-love, and our dedicated commitment to living our own lives.
The practice of long deep abdominal breathing as described above can be used to cultivate a feeling of security in your body and love of your physical form. Allow yourself to experience that the energy you bring in with the breath is feeding your body (because it is). This can produce a very satisfying feeling that replaces the addictive cravings. Another variation is to initiate the breath at the navel center. The focus on the navel center will help you consciously create the flame and the fire in your "lower furnace". The fire energetically builds your will power on a very organic level.
My most powerful driving force is to feel good. Almost everything I do is in one way or another related to the fact that I want to feel good all the time. This does not mean that I do, but it does mean that I do the best I can to cultivate a state of well being. Admittedly, it is a continual, lifetime task. I must be vigilant at all times. But feeling good is so important to me that it is worth all the time and effort. I do yoga everyday to feel good. And what I eat is mostly (not all) determined by how I will feel after I eat.
I remember several years ago I attended a class with about 40 women on habits, diet and eating. The teacher asked us, "Who considers how they will feel 3 hours later before they eat?" Only 3 women raised their hands. Wow, I was shocked. These were all spiritually committed women. So don't feel bad if you wouldn't have raised your hand. But do consider that making it a priority to feel good is something to consider. It could change your life and be a key to dealing with eating disorders and weight.
Actually, I believe that everyone is driven by the desire to feel good. We just need to make this desire conscious and learn habits and behaviors that make total well-being possible.
1st Chakra: Identifying Needs and Getting Them Met
Finding solutions to all our human challenges is actually a question of identifying our needs and figuring out how to get them met. Security and satisfying needs are first chakra issues. Some of some our basic needs that relate to food and addictions include the following:
- To feel secure
- To feel a sense of well being
- To feel nurtured
- To be nourished
Please add to the list.
I operate from the premise that we all have needs and that our lives are organized around how to get them met. We may sabotage ourselves by doing things that don't really get our needs met or are harmful. But we are still internally driven to attempt to satisfy our basic needs. In fact, I believe that eating disorders, drug, alcohol and tobacco addictions are unsuccessful attempts to get our needs met.
In dealing with any challenge, the first step is to identify the need. The second step is to embrace it, NOT deny it or try to suppress it. The third step is to figure how we can satisfy these needs, without hurting ourselves, but instead by promoting our health and happiness.
Substitutes -vs- Deprivation
Food is often used an inadequate substitute for the above and other needs. Something is missing in our lives so we try to placate our craving with food.
The problem with bad food is that none of our needs are satisfied including the one for food. In fact we just crave more food. This is a serious problem even for those of us who try to eat a healthy diet.
Ingesting "food" that does not have its natural, complete vitamin-mineral content not only does not satisfy our bodies, it also creates cravings. This is because the body needs the complete vitamin-mineral structure to properly digest its food. If something is missing, the body will try to find it by depleting the rest of the body of those particular vitamins or minerals and by sending out "hunger" signals demanding what it needs.
The problem today is that most of our foods are severely deficient in vitamin-mineral content. Genetically engineered foods are even worse because the natural crystalline structures of plants are simplified. As a result the cells cannot absorb what is left of the nutrients from the food.
This is the same for the water we drink. Pollution, purification, chemical additives and processing of water has debilitated our water to the extent that it cannot be fully absorbed by our cells. We are born with 98% water content in our bodies. Our cells are dehydrated down to about 75% by the time we are 40 or 50. And no matter how much water we drink, if it does not come from the few vital sources left on the Planet, our body's thirst for water is not totally quenched.
Now all this is rather depressing except for the fact that we do have some very effective vitamin and mineral supplements available to us that can satisfy our bodies. And recently there have been some major discoveries that help us revitalize the water we drink.
In addition, there is a lot that we can do immediately by choosing healthier foods. We can eliminate processed sugar, processed foods, fried foods, red meat and caffeine from our diet. The trick is substitution. Deprivation does not work.
Our bodies need natural sugar and foods of the Earth element. Fruits contain natural sugar. And there are many "health food junk foods" that are sweetened with honey and natural sugar from fruit. Although these are not as nutritious as a piece of fruit or carrot juice, they are not harmful like refined sugar and flour. I say minimize the damage and do your best to keep your body at peace without ingesting the known addictive foods - refined sugar being on the top of the list.
Refined sugar is addictive because of what I explained above. The natural nutrients have been extracted and the body craves more in an attempt to get the minerals and vitamins it needs to carry out its digestive and eliminative functions. Caffeine from coffee, coke, chocolate also dehydrates the body.
Since sugar is addictive, any amount of it generally provokes the craving and reestablishes the addiction. This is why it is recommended to eliminate it completely. If you have the guts to do this, I suggest having a good supply of substitutes on hand. Remember the need must be satisfied. Deprivation does not work. As the body gets accustomed to more complete foods, the sugar craving will subside. The need for natural sugars will remain because the body needs some of this food. Over time (and it may be a while) more natural sugars will be the only ones that satisfy you.
When I was young my mother made the most outrageous refined sugar-flour based desserts imaginable. It took me several years to eliminate my desire for refined sugar. The dessert habit, however, is still in my genes. Now I am satisfied with a couple of bites of Golden Temple Ginger Snap Granola.
To help break my refined sugar addition, I ate millet almost everyday for several years. Millet is one of the few grains that is an Earth food. All sugars are Earth foods. By eating millet, my body was able to have its need for Earth foods satisfied. I eat millet once in a while now. Amazingly I still like it.
I am not saying it was easy. But I am sharing that it was possible and it was worth it. I feel so much better without refined sugar. And as I said, feeling good is a priority for me.
Addictions support each other. A stop smoking course recommended giving up coffee, teas with caffeine and alcohol at the same time. Each one increased the craving for the others. They recommended substituting vitamin C, dried and fresh fruit. The vitamin C helps replace the nutrients lost and rebuild the substance in the body that is replaced by nicotine.
When to Start
The best day to begin any regime or Sadhana to break or make new habits is the New Moon. I have personally experienced that it is much easier to keep up and actually succeed when I start a fast on the New Moon. Yogically, forty days is the amount of time it takes to break a habit.
Somehow because of the cholesterol scare, we have gotten the message that oil is bad. Refined, fried oils are not easily digested by the body. Natural oils are needed by the body for optimum functioning. Olive or almond oil (not canola) in your salad dressing or added to your grains after they are cooked can satisfy these needs.
It is very important that women do not eliminate oil from their diets. No oil speeds up the aging process and makes menopause more difficult.
The Box Technique
Someone shared with me the idea that I now call the box technique. This is one way to deal with the psychology of what we eat and don't eat. We all actually use this technique all the time. There are things that we do not do and do not eat. We have them classified in a box. We do not eat food out of a trash bin. We don't eat rotten food. We wouldn't even think about it. We can choose to expand our box and put other foods in that box. This works if we keep the item in the box. And it circumvents a lot of mental anguish of trying to decide "to eat or not to eat." Over time the sides of the box will grow stronger and we won't even question our initial decision.
When I was young, I often ate much more than I needed. I was of course uncomfortable after I stuffed myself. I worried about getting fat, which did not happen, but I did waste a lot of mental energy and made myself uptight. One day, after college, I decided that I did not want to live like that. I made the decision to eat only until I was full and then I would stop. It took me about 2 months to get into the habit and integrate the strategy into my psyche. I am so much more comfortable mentally and physically that to do any differently is not even an option. I have gotten better over the years too. I look at my food, appreciate what I am eating while I am eating, even try to chew more. It all helps.
We have built-in survival strategies. The trick is to discover your own version and use them to your advantage. As Yogi Bhajan taught us, the Universe is set up for us to win. Life on Planet Earth is to discover how to win our own game of life. We were all born with the innate wisdom to succeed and be happy.
Maybe weight and food problems are not really about food and weight. Maybe the issue is self-love. Maybe we should start out by loving our bodies as they are. After all everyone is different and therefore special. Maybe addictions are about taking back our power from those forces and "authorities" who we have let manipulate us. Maybe every issue we face is a spiritual issue between me and myself and me and the Divine.
My hypothesis is that we all have addictive personalities. We just have different addictions. Actually the addictive power is a spiritual necessity and gift. I believe we were given this quality to be able to hold on to our experience of God.
I propose getting high on Kundalini Yoga and using this addictive power to hold on to the experience. This sounds easy, but this reorientation is a challenge too. Holding on to the feeling can be as challenging as breaking an addiction. What we are doing is breaking an old habit and creating a new one. We are training our mind to reorient our focus. We are reversing an energy pattern that has been in place for a long time. We are challenging an old belief system and creating a new one. The trick is to patiently train yourself and to keep up until you are addicted to God.
You can cultivate an addiction to God with any Kundalini Yoga set, breathing exercise or meditation. The important point is to do something to change your energy and then to focus on the feeling and satisfaction that you have created. Have fun feeling good!